https://www.theepochtimes.com/florida-education-top-gun-tells-schools-to-ignore-federal-guidelines-on-gender-identity_4631090.html

PUNTA GORDA, Fla.–Florida Education Commissioner Manny Diaz, Jr. told schools to “ignore federal guidelines aimed at preventing discrimination against students based on gender identity, saying they would “vastly expand the application” of Title IX.

In a July 27 letter to superintendents, school boards, private schools, and charter schools, Diaz advised that guidance documents from the U.S. Department of Education and the U.S. Department of Agriculture “are not binding law” and asked school officials to “refuse to change their practices.”

The letter accused the federal government of trying to “impose sexual ideology on Florida schools” that would create a risk to the “health, safety, and welfare of Florida students.”

“The Department will do everything in its power to protect the well being of all Florida students,” Diaz said in his letter. “And to vindicate the right of all parents to know what takes place in their child’s classroom.”

The guidelines from the federal government extend protections under the law to include schools’ “obligations not to discriminate based on sex stereotypes, sex characteristics, pregnancy or related conditions, sexual orientation, and gender identity.”

In June, Miguel Cardona, U.S. Department of Education Secretary explained in a news release that the guidelines will “ensure all our nation’s students—no matter where they live, who they are or whom they love—can learn, grow, and thrive in school.”

More than 50 years ago, Title IX was enacted to prohibit gender-based discrimination in educational institutions. In June, the U.S. Department of Education released a proposal that stated it would “provide greater clarity regarding the scope” of sexual discrimination. The U.S. Department of Agriculture became involved through the school-lunch programs in May when it was announced that it would begin interpreting Title IX to “include discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.”

In his letter, Diaz warned schools against making certain accommodations for transgender students who “identify” as the sex opposite of which they were biologically assigned, especially when it comes to bathroom accommodations.

“Specifically, for example, nothing in these guidance documents requires you to give biological males who identify as female access to female bathrooms, locker rooms, or dorms; to assign biological males who identify as female to female rooms on school field trips; or to allow biological males who identify as female to compete on female sports teams,” Diaz wrote.

In 2021, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into law legislation barring transgender female athletes from competing on high-school girls’ and college sports teams. In April, the governor signed a bill that restricts instruction concerning gender identity and sexual orientation to children in lower grades. Dubbed by critics as the “don’t say gay” bill, it has been challenged in federal court and is still pending.

At a July 27 press conference, the governor took aim at schools that push “woke gender ideology.”

The governor, during the press event, suggested that school systems in other cities and states are included in their instruction suggestions that would encourage students to question their genders.

“Basically, this will be for elementary school kids where they’re instructed to tell them, ‘Well, you may have been a boy, that may have been what you said, but maybe you’re really a girl—that’s wrong,’” DeSantis said of the schools promoting “woke gender ideology.”

He said that Florida has “laid down a marker” to ensure that it’s “not something that gained a foothold here in the state of Florida.”

“The kids are off limits,” he said at the Tampa press conference.

Diaz’s letter told school administrators that the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services was “communicating with schools” and “suggesting they should comply with the U.S. Department of Agriculture guidance.”

He advised schools to ignore what he called “any suggestions” from the state agriculture department that schools display a poster themed “And Justice for All” that would indicate participation in the federal program.

The federal agriculture agency described the posters as a “primary method utilized to inform customers of their rights that displays information relevant” to federally assisted programs.

Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried joins crowd protesting the Supreme Court’s decision in the Dobbs v Jackson Women’s Health case on June 24, 2022, in Miami, Fla. The Court’s decision overturns Roe v Wade, the landmark ruling removing a federal right to an abortion. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Diaz’s letter prompted Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, a Democratic gubernatorial hopeful, to hold a press conference on July 29 to address the assertions in Diaz’s letter, as well as to accuse the governor of “creating a fictitious culture war.”

“Manny Diaz and the Department of Education have no oversight over the National School Lunch Program,” she said at her press conference on July 29. “This has nothing to do with bathrooms or locker rooms like Commissioner Diaz has suggested.”

Fried said the governor needs to prioritize the people of the state instead of creating another “manufactured crisis,” because he is “running for president.”

The education commissioner, she said, should focus on the task of “focusing on his job” and addressing the teacher shortage instead of “being Ron’s errand boy.”

The federal school food nutrition program has specific rules and regulations before funds are dispersed to the state, she explained.

“The department, as well as all of our schools, need to be in compliance,” Fried said. “Commissioner Diaz has overstepped his role—he has no oversight when it comes to our feeding programs in the state of Florida—when it comes to our school nutrition program.”

Neither the U.S. Department of Education nor the U.S. Department of Agriculture responded before press time, but the spokesperson for the Florida Department of Education said the Biden administration was responsible for attempting to hold federal programs “hostage.”

“President Biden is attempting to force his radical agenda on Florida schools by holding hostage programs our students need,” Alex Lanfranconi, Director of Communications for the Florida Department of Education told The Epoch Times in an emailed statement. “Our schools have NO obligation to follow this federal guidance and will not be threatened into submission.”

Jannis Falkenstern

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Jannis Falkenstern is an Epoch Times reporter who covers the state of Florida.

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